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North Dakota regulators to discuss oil refinery project with company officials

A rendering of the proposed Davis Refinery to be built near Belfield, N.D., and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (Submitted photo)

BISMARCK—State regulators want to sit down with company officials behind a proposed oil refinery in western North Dakota to understand why they're not going through the Public Service Commission's siting process.

The commission has scheduled a meeting for Dec. 19 regarding Meridian Energy Group's plans for a refinery in Billings County near Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Company CEO Bill Prentice plans to attend.

"We ... really just an opportunity to sit down face-to-face with the company and talk through what their plans are," Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said.

Fedorchak said she understands the project will be built below the 50,000 barrels-per-day threshold that prompts requirements for a siting permit, but a potential expansion would bring its capacity above that later. A website for the Davis Refinery states that in order "to ensure that Meridian is in compliance with North Dakota laws and regulations, Meridian has restricted the design capacity of the Davis Refinery to 49,500" barrels per day.

"Decisions on any potential future expansion of the Davis Refinery will be made after Davis is in operation, and would not proceed unless and until Meridian has received a siting certificate" from the PSC, the website states.

Fedorchak hesitated to say whether she felt Meridian was purposefully avoiding additional regulatory scrutiny because she hasn't talked to company officials directly.

"I just continue to feel that the appropriate course would be to go for the whole siting on the front end," she said. "There isn't a whole lot of downside to doing that in terms of being a good corporate citizen."

Prentice said they're "just trying to stay within the law" and "show an abundance of caution." Although Meridian has previously described the refinery as a 55,000 barrel-per-day facility, he said there was "absolutely no design or present intent associated with that statement."

"If we decide to expand beyond the 50,000 barrel-per-day limit, that'll probably be in about four or five years," he said. "We're going to stop at 49,500, take a big deep breath and look at all our options at that point."

The project is slated for a 715-acre site west of Belfield. The refinery has already drawn criticism for its location just a few miles away from the national park, but project planners have said they want to build the "cleanest refinery in the world."

Meanwhile, the North Dakota Department of Health plans to solicit public comments on an air quality permit for the project soon. State Water Commission staff is also recommending approval on a water permit for the project, but that's being contested and a hearing will be held, said State Engineer Garland Erbele.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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